Leadership capability patterns: Process

Part of an ongoing series of articles on leadership capability patterns; this article looks at some leadership patterns that relate to process and tools.

In 1994, I had just launched out into the scary world of contracting and took on a role with Royal Mail (the UK postal system). My role there lasted for six years, and in that time I had a number of interesting opportunities to step up in different ways to show leadership.

I was asked to lead a project to link together a number of regional distribution centers with the road, rail, and air networks, to forecast, plan, and manage the delivery of mountains of bulk mail every day. They initially wanted to lay in dedicated lines between each centre, and instead I proposed using this new-fangled open network, called the internet, and was able to get this through.

To deliver this, I needed to lead the Small Systems Rapid Response Team; a rather long-winded name to describe that we were using XP and DSDM … but this was 7 years before anyone came up with the label of ‘agile’.


While my role was still primarily delivery focused, I did have responsibilities for how work was allocated across the team, how we planned our work and reported on progress. I wrote a paper proposing an approach that would focus on quality outcomes, based on the paradigms of order processing and work-in-progress; which, without realising it, mirrored many attributes of Scrum.


When ensuring that we fully understand any domain, I find the Kipling journalism method a useful reference:

“I keep six honest serving men,
(they taught me all I knew);
there names are what and why and when
and how and where and who”
Rudyard Kipling, Elephant’s Child

We need to get a good handle on our processes and tools, and understand the timing of when things should happen and what roles are involved.

Leadership capability framework

Being an effective leader means being able to identify what we do and how we do it, so that our teams can reference it, new starters can work their way through it, and the team overall can focus on areas for improvement. I represent this with the process–tools axis in the leadership capability patterns.


Some leadership patterns relating to process

  • Open process: If not already in place, work to establish your process, with clear standards at the core and guidelines on the periphery; and realise that in the act of creating this, we will uncover unexpected processes and highlight areas for improvement.
  • Problem solving: We need to help our team members to look at their tasks or problems in a new light, encourage their discovery rather than taking over and solving it for them.
  • Transparency: With this in place, we can better monitor what our teams are producing and how, and review this with the team.
  • Balance: It’s important that we ensure work is balanced across the team, looking for opportunities to stretch team members, while not overloading them, causing us issues with leave, sickness, etc.
  • Involvement: Make the ongoing development of your team’s practice a joint endeavour, involving the whole team — a community of practice.

I think of this as the second capability level in the leadership capability patterns, focusing on the processes and tools we need for the project in which we’re involved.

Explore the related articles in this series:

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